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Say hello to the Helix Nebula In 2001 and 2002, our Hubble Space Telescope looked at…

Say hello to the Helix Nebula In 2001 and 2002, our Hubble Space Telescope looked at…

Say hello to the Helix Nebula 👋

In 2001 and 2002, our Hubble Space Telescope looked at the Helix Nebula and it looked right back! This planetary nebula is right in our cosmic neighborhood, only about 650 light-years away. Gigantic for this type of cosmic object, the Helix Nebula stretches across 2 to 3 light-years.

With no actual connection to planets, planetary nebulas like this one are produced when a medium-mass star dies and sloughs off its outer layers. These gaseous layers are expelled into space at astonishing speeds where they light up like fireworks. The Helix Nebula is one of the closest planetary nebulas to Earth, giving scientists an up-close view of its strange affairs.

Through Hubble’s observations, scientists have learned that the Helix Nebula isn’t doughnut-shaped as it appears. Instead it consists of two disks that are nearly perpendicular to each other — the nebula looks like an eye and bulges out like one too!

Hubble has also imaged comet-like tendrils that form a pattern around the central star like the spokes on a wagon wheel, likely resulting from a collision between gases. The dying star spews hot gas from its surface, which crashes into the cooler gas that it ejected 10,000 years before. Eventually the knots will dissipate into the cold blackness of interstellar space.

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